The right use of social mediaThere have been so many tales of businesses getting the social marketing angle wrong – posting poorly thought out updates and tweets, in particular, and it often leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth for customers and can damage a company’s online reputation. But what do you do when your customers band together to publicly lay into you on a social media site? For instance, setting up a group for dissatisfied users who are determined to hang all your dirty washing out in public.

1) Be aware of all activity regarding your company, brand, product names. You can do this by setting up alerts on Google, and it is also wise to actively monitor Twitter (using tools such as Twilert or SocialMention, or the in-built tools in Hootsuite and Tweetdeck), and Facebook (more difficult to monitor but one of the most likely places for a group with negative comments about your company to spring up).

2) Don’t ignore negative comments. You are more likely to feed the fire by pretending that it is not happening. It is more important to get to the bottom of why you have dissatisfied customers and resolve the issues. This does not have to be wholly in public, but it is wise to make sure that people reading or posting to any such groups know that you are at least aware of the issues and are endeavouring to resolve these with the concerned parties. Claiming to not understand how social media works in this day and age is no excuse for not replying to concerns on social media sites.

3) The customer is always right. Even if they are now an ex-customer. Listen to their concerns and address them without becoming defensive or going on the attack. It may well be that the issues are a genuine problem within your company and by solving them you are ensuring that future customers will be more inclined to deal with you and stay with you. Be honest about problems that have occurred, humble, and offer a form of compensation, even if this is only a public apology. (Note: if you want any of these customers back, you should look at more than just an apology, especially if they are out of pocket or have been seriously inconvenienced).

4) Antis can become advocates. If dealt with correctly, even the most ardent non-supporter can be turned into an evangelist for your product. Mastering customer service is vital for healthy long-term relationships, even if the initial road has been a little rocky. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers. There may well be some gems of advice from even the most unhappy customer – after all, that person could be a hugely successful Customer Relationship Manager in their day job!

5) Try to nip these issues in the bud as soon as you become aware of them. It is simple for these things to spiral out of control, or go viral, and you only need one customer to create a parody of your logo, a Youtube video about their experiences and suddenly your reputation can sink like a stone.

6) Keep the channels open for customer complaints at all times and build social media channels into your email, telephone, post and in person complaints. Let your customers contact you through the route that suits them best, not just the processes you are happy with. It is by ignoring Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags designed to scupper your reputation, and forums specifically set up to complain about you that these ripples of discontent become waves, and even tsunamis.

7) Love your customers. Talk to them. Engage with them. Take every complaint seriously before it gets out of hand. Be the best at what you do.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology